By Nick Hilton
FOOTBALL, PAPER MAGAZINE
It’s been 12 years since Lee Gleeson’s career as a professional footballer was concluded prematurely, and the man regarded as the Irish Republic’s great talent now wants to “finish opportunities” on a high, writes one of his country’s leading sports journalists. A body line tackle delivered the final blow for former Kilkenny forward Lee Gleeson. “I saw him walking away from the dressing room with a concern in his eyes. I had this feeling that we didn’t have much time left and that it wasn’t going to be good,” said Sean McCartan, one of Gleeson’s closest friends. Lee Gleeson won 47 caps for Ireland “We stayed in touch and it became clear he was struggling. “I was really sad to see him go and I was glad to learn he had found peace in the end, because obviously it was difficult to hear of his demise.” The 23-year-old was well known throughout the country, but it was as captain of Kilkenny that he made his greatest impact. People always remembered him with affection after his hat-trick against Galway in a All-Ireland club semi-final in 1991. He knew the way Lee Gleeson liked to play and I had the feeling that if he was doing well, then that was a lucky cap,” said Sean McCartan. “If he wasn’t doing well, then he couldn’t play.” In that match Gleeson hit 1-10 in Ireland’s narrow 2-13 to 1-15 win. But he would play just 40 more senior games, and had to leave the game early due to injury, with his career prematurely ended by a bad tackle by Shane Moloney. Gleeson had to leave the game due to injury “That was the last time I’ll ever see Lee playing football,” said Sean McCartan. “It’s hard to think of any tournament he has not played in over the last 14 years. “Lee had always had such a competitive streak, but we were always told off for getting too physical when it came to him. “It wasn’t like an off-field row where we weren’t getting on at all. “In that hospital [where Gleeson spent the last weeks of his life] I just got to see the same young lad that we had spent years of our lives with.” Lee Gleeson also became a much-loved figure away from the pitch, most notably through his tireless work as an ambassador and fundraiser for the Ian Brady Foundation for Children and Adults with AIDS, which helped save the lives of many sick children. Gleeson’s success on the field was achieved as an underage footballer, after an initial foray into club football on the fringes of amateur football. In the early 1990s he established himself as a highly promising amateur, and came within a whisker of fulfilling one of his career dreams with Kilkenny.
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